Friday, February 17, 2012

Snowed On

A three day weekend approaches. Can't wait. Two days ago, it was looking promising that I would be able to go few miles down the road (as much as I hate road riding)with Maggie. Last night, we got 2 inches and it's cold. It is supposed to warm up to 40 degrees today. That's fantastic news. That means that it will all melt off today, freeze tonight, and make the roads an ice skating rink most of the weekend. Fabulous. Guess it's back to the arena if I want to get any ride time in this weekend.

I really envy all of you that live in places that have access to reasonable footing for riding this time of year,. It's not the cold I fight, I can bundle up well enough to ride for a couple hours and withstand it, it's the darn footing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Minimalist Shoes and Staying Injury Free

I am sitting here at work , in a mid afternoon funk, reading a few headlines.I just read Funders post here. She opens up the post about her attempts at running barefoot and all the trouble she experienced.The post is worth the read and for the heck of it, here's my barefoot drama story.

I have also had a stint with the barefoot or actually to be more accurate , minimalist running.
3 years ago I started changing my entire way of looking at food. I was having a lot of migraine, skin and gastro intestinal issues. So I started reading and researching. I decided to start cutting out a few things. It was a lengthy process involving many tweaks over the course of many months . With each change I made, I felt a little better, saw a little improvement. Even the husband , who at the time would see a broccoli crown and run screaming, started noticing some improvements with how he was feeling. It was a complete shift in how we looked at food. Today, I am quickly emerging from a Primal way of eating into almost Paleo. Giving up dairy is my current roadblock but I am getting there. Again, gradual change.
Somewhere in the the middle of all this,it naturally led me down a path where I started looking at my exercise routine a little closer because it wasn’t working for me. I was going to the gym doing the elliptical /treadmill routine for an hour 5 times a week , with a few weights thrown in for good measure. I hated it. I hated fighting for machines, I hated being on the machines and I hated the gym scene. We decided to give up our gym membership and set up an at home gym. We bought a popular workout video series known as P90X. We spent a winter doing that, together. We helped motivate each other. It was hard, one of the hardest things I had ever done. “Push-ups, Pull- ups, are you kidding me? I can’t do that” , that is what I was thinking when I first started previewing those videos in the early days. But I tried, and I kept on trying, kept on coming back to it. After 3 consecutive rounds of the program, I was doing it. I was ripping off 25-30 REAL pushups with CORRECT form, I was doing pulls up with only a little assist. Granted, I still modified certain things, but I was doing it. I felt great. Then, we incorporated some other interval training programs . That presented a whole different type of challenge but once again, I reaped the benefits. I was durable, and felt stronger than ever.

Pretty soon, I started thinking about getting into running, something I have always wanted to do but never really could seem to do. Last summer, my husband bought me a pair of the Merrell Minimalist shoes. He showed me a few videos and I read the book “Born to Run”. I am the worst heel striker even at a walk that you may have ever met . I come by it honestly all the way back to my great grandmother, grandmother, father, and then me…I pound my heels when I walk. Its horrible but I can’t seem to help it.
Being able to run a 5K has been one of those “life “ goals that I have never been able to attain. I would always go for long walks, and try to run, but I would always end up with shin splints and foot pain from an old injury that would become unbearable so I always gave up. When I got the barefoot shoes, I was optimistic. I started wearing them around the house for short stints, and pretty soon took a couple of walks in them. They felt pretty good. A little soreness but nothing too out of control. I paid attention to how I was walking and focused on not landing heel first. 36 years of walking on your heels does not just go way!! After a few weeks of wearing these shoes, I thought it was time to try out the new kicks at speed. So I set out to go for a jog in them.
Let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience. It started out great, I felt totally liberated. Whenever I had tried to run over the years, it always felt like I would be dragging myself out of sucking mud with every step . With the new shoes, it didn’t seem that way. I felt like I could easily propel myself forward. I was ecstatic and started thinking I really could run after all. Unfortunately, that euphoria was momentary. I got a half mile down the road and out of the blue my calves felt like they were going to explode or worse, detach from bone and sling shot across the wheat field, to be picked up as a snack by one of the local raptors. I was in agony. I turned around, limped my way home and threw the shoes in the closet. What the hell? I did everything I was supposed to, I slowly transitioned and built up. Why now? Needless to say, I didn’t run the rest of the summer. It took 3 weeks before my calves stopped hurting and I could actually go up or down stairs without half crawling or sliding down on my butt. I did a lot stretching to try to heal and resumed the Interval videos when I could manage.

Maybe out of just plain stubbornness and wanting to “win” my battle, I dug those damn Merrell’s out again a few weeks after that and started doing Insanity video’s (plyometrics/interval workouts) in them. Surprisingly, no pain.. ok, now we are getting somewhere…

This past November I started jogging once a week with a friend just to break up my workout routine. Still in the Merrell’s, no major issues. So far...
Nevertheless, after few times of jogging, I started having trouble again, but this time it wasn’t the calves. Instead, my left foot was acting up. I was experiencing pain /heat in the ball of my foot , metatarsal pain and some sciatic pain flaring up that was making my foot go numb. I knew what the issue was. I have lower back scoliosis which tilts my pelvis , which puts pressure on nerves, which causes sciatic pain. I also broke several metatarsal bones in that foot a number of years ago. Not wanting to give up the progress I had made with the running, I did something that was probably really dumb, and switched shoes. Yep, I went Back to my old Asic Gels, even though they were completely worn out and offered absolutely no support. I slapped some new insoles in them and kept on going. I did get some relief (maybe it was the placebo effect) and the foot pain was bearable.( I know, I am my own worst enemy)
but here's the good part, Pretty soon, I realized I was running 3.0 miles consistently and it wasn’t awful… I rmember the day I ran it. I hadn't even realized it until my running partner told me how far we had gone. Wait, Had I just attained my goal??? Holy crap!! I was running 3.0 miles, not in minimalist shoes but running it just the same. That’s nearly a 5k. I was there! FINALLY! I had come full circle in the shoe department but I could finally see myself crossing the finish lineof a 5K. I had decided I was going to stick with traditional running shoes and just work on form to avoid heel strike. Yes, you can improve form and not have Minimalist shoes. That was my master plan and I was going to run with it. No pun intended.
In April , my running partner and I were going to run the Summit Classic together. She is actually training for a half marathon but she was happy to support me and was actually thinking by then , I would likely be closer to being ready for the 10K…psshhhh… let’s not get carried away!

You know, the universe has a weird way of keeping thing in check. Just about the time things seem to be cookin right along with your plans and you can let down your guard a bit, a wrench gets thrown in the gears of life.

About 3 weeks ago, I decided it was nice enough out to do my scheduled 3.5 mile run outside. The sun was shining and there was only intermittent snow/ice on the roads. Good enough footing to take a slow run. I grapped my MP3 and set off. I wasn’t trying but I ran it faster than my usual time. I came home, stretched and went on with my day. I felt great, like I could have run another couple of miles easily. The next day, I woke up and couldn’t walk. My Achilles tendon was really painful. I literally could barely walk, Stairs were agony and so I hopped up them one legged (thank you Insanity videos)to spare myself the pain. I have no idea what happened. I never took a misstep on that run I never tripped,slipped, nothing.

The pain was so unbearable, wearing any shoes that touched the back of my foot was out of the question. My danskos were the only shoes that didn't make me want to wince in pain. I did the ice / anti inflammatory thing for a week with not much improvement.
I did not go to the doctor. In hind sight probably should have but I didn't want to spend $150 or more to be told to go home, rest and ice... I already knew that. I know enough about tendon injuries from horses that my options were limited.
So, I stopped running.

This has been the first week that tendon has really started to feel like it’s FINALLY healing.I can finally wear shoes other than dansko’s and I even did a Plyometric workout which required some jumping. The tendon held up.
Looking back at this path of destruction:

Mistake #1 Switching back and forth between shoes. Pick one that doesn’t hurt you and stick with it.
Mistake #2- Running in the Merrell’s with incorrect form. In an effort to not heel strike , I was over striding and pointing my toes and landing on the ball of my foot. Not cool.
Mistake #3- Cheeping out and using worn out traditional running shoes that offered NO support.
I have decided to go back to a more traditional running shoe but with less of a heel /toe ratio than the Asics but something in between. I don’t want to reinjure myself right in front of spring riding season. I don't want to be on the sidelines in my fitness routine.

For me, due to my foot injury, minimalist shoes may not an option for me for running. My left foot is going to require a bit more padding to stay comfortable. I have accepted that.

This has been a frustrating process but I have learned many valuable lesson. It draws a parallel to riding endurance. It’s not all one way for everyone. There is always more than one way to skin a cat. Or run a 5K, or whatever. Don’t just follow a fad because it’s a fad. In my case, I truly thought that minimalist running would fix my heel strike issue just by the nature of getting my foot level on the ground but my body mechanics fought it and I ended up injured. I realized that I can work on better running form and not need a total minimalist shoe. Minimalist shoes might not be for me, not the end of the world.
Here are some thoughts on parallels to the world of endurance riding:
Not every endurance rider needs to ride bitless
Not every endurance horses can use a treeless saddle or vice versa.
Not every horse can go barefoot and stay sound in any footing and those that are putting metal shoes on their steeds are not “ruining” their horse gait or legs. Or flip that, not every horse travels better in easy boots or barefoot.
Not every endurance horse needs to be electrolyted at every stop along the way.
And maybe my favorite, you don’t have to ride an Arabian to be successful in Endurance.

Not everyone can be suited to barefoot or minimlaist running. The next time you feel the pull of following a fad, do some careful research and listen to your body. If it' s not working, quit trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It's not going to work. Period.Change your plan. Do what feels right.

Excercise should have some level of fun. For those of us that have a farm or livestock to stay on top of, being injured makes life very difficult. I intend to go back and start training again for the 5K but you can bet that before I step foot on the road, I will be in shoes that support me properly and I will listen to my body this time. There's always another 5K somewhere. If not in April , then in June or July , etc.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Preparations and Equine Weight Management

Just like we need to keep certain things maintained on our vehicles to attempt to avoid mechanical failure, there are a few things that horses need to be kept up on as well. Spring riding is just around the corner so in preparation for that, I have my Spring Equine Readiness Checklist to start checking off. One of those items was accomplished yesterday. Brego and Maggie went to the vet for some scheduled maintenance. They were both due for dental work. Neither one have had anything done in that department . Brego just turned 5 and hadn't needed anything until now. Maggie has also never had her teeth floated. I mistakingly thought we had her in last year but juggling the care of 6-7 horses often gets confusing, especially when I don't keep up on my records! As it turns out, they both had wolf teeth and they both needed them removed. Typically, this is completed early on in a horses life. With colts, it's done at the same time they are gelded. Brego was gelded at 6 mos so his wolf teeth weren't in at that time. Other than the pain from writing a fairly large check to have this done, both horses are recovering fine. Maggie is a little more sore as it took a fair amount of yanking and pulling with pliers ( it's not exactly a high tech procedure to remove these things)to unearth the healthy roots she had. If she goes off the groceries a little, it is going to hurt anything.
Both horses were weighed prior to the procedure to help determine the correct dose of sedative to administer. Both horses are over 1000 lbs, Maggie the heavy weight of 1084 lbs. She's only 14.1 hands. Brego is just a big horse and still growing. My vet was concerned about Maggie, especially given that Magggie is your typical easy keeper Morgan. Along with that comes the risk of her developing Insulin resistance and Cushings disease. Because of this little fact that I am well aware of, managing her feed intake is an ever evolving issue in the spring and summermonths.

It won't be too much longer before green shoots start emerging in the pasture. Other than confining Maggie, which often backfires because she gets out of every confinement if she is hungry, my vet and discussed a few options:
1) get a grazing muzzle- Not sure she would keep that on.Have never used one of these and I would worry about the safety of her getting it caught on something.

2) Confine her- We already do this. She often escapes , through electric fence, and I come home to find she has been grazing on lush green pasture for 3 hours...or more..need to invest in electric fencing suitable to hold back Tyranousaurus Rex apparently.

3) Excercise, Excercise and Ecxercise- no explanation needed.

4)Back off her off hay ration and supplement with straw (up to a 1/3 )to keep her busy and satisfied. This one was concerning to me because straw can increase a chance of impactions. My vet felt that as long as she is a good drinker and has access to temperate water in the colder months, this should not cause an issue. Maggie is generally a good drinker when she isn't being ridden and we have tank heaters so, both things are in her favor. But this leads to some other questions specific to using this as a feed for the distance discpline.

I will pose this question:
Has anyone used straw with the horses they have in endurance training?
What issues have you had , if any?

In the meantime, I guess it's time to get into research mode.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


It seems like just few weeks ago I was enjoying the mild winter we were having. I was actually riding in my outdoor arena. The footing wasn’t totally ideal, mildly frozen but it was snow free and certainly rideable enough for some walking work. Temps were in the 40’s and even 50’s into December.
As if winter heard my thoughts, and probably those of many of others out there thinking the same thing, winter blew in with a fury in late December. The mountains received feet of snow in a 48 hour period. Fortunately the valley only received about 8 inches. You could almost hear the collective sigh from the skiers , snowmobilers and other winter sport enthusiasts among us. Most of that has melted now here on the valley floor and what remained, refroze, harder than cement. Ice in other areas. ever since, the mercury has stayed in teens and twenties . Regardless, I laughed in winters proverbial face and planted herb seeds anyways about 2 weeks ago. They are growing nicely in my southern window. I can hardly wait for gardening season, but I will have to wait.

In the meantime, riding at home is not an option for a while as the footing has degraded to more ice. In an effort to continue to ride, we have been hauling over to an indoor arena that is only about 1 mile up the road. It’s quite convenient. We have been going over once a week and getting an hour or so of ride time in. The going rate for haul ins around here is $15/horse/hour. It’s a bit pricey and somewhat of an inconvenience to load up and schlepp ourselves, the horses, the horse gear and all my layers of clothes over there in the name of getting an hour of riding once a week. My alternative is to board which is more expensive, about $300.00 for one month. How many times does $15 go into $300.00??? You do the math.

We’ll continue schlepping.

Our arena time was interesting the first time. I had never had Maggie in an indoor arena with deep sandy footing. She stepped into that sand and thought the devil himself was under her hooves. At first she wouldn’t move, then when she did, she went straight in the air, then she high stepped and snorted around like a hopped up, ginger tailed Standard Bred show horse. Luckily, the footing started to take it's toll and she resigned to the "weird" footing. Then came the issue with the cattle chute/pen configuration on one end of the arena, not to mention the daylight that was coming in under one of the doors and roping cattle wandering around just on the other side of that door. The owner of the facility is heavily involved in the rodeo scene and holds ropings and penning at the facility. Cows are just part of the gig.

We have been to the arena four times. The scary end of the arena gets a little less scary with each trip. Ofcourse, last weekend, we had to share the arena space with two longhorns and another guy exposing his horse to cattle.
Maggie was pretty sure she hadn’t signed up for this program and wanted to leave the scene in a hurry. We worked through it but we didn’t get much of anything else accomplished. I suppose getting her to walk up to the cattle and even moving them off (even if unintentional) can be defined as success.

I was surprised at Maggie’s reaction to the cows as she has ridden in among them before numerous times, but it has always been out in the open with range cattle. Apparently cattle in an arena look and smell a whole lot different.

I look forward to another round of cattle exposure in the arena, sort of…if for nothing else than to check it off the list of one more thing to expose her too. Overall, the arena experience has been an adventure and in the spirit of finding the good in things I think it's been a great learning experience. Look at all she has learned..

-the fake roping cattle dummy thing isn’t going to kill her, until someone moves it… then you should turn and bolt like hell to get away from it
-dirt clods that fly up from her hooves and hit the arena wall with a thunk are not worth jumping straight in the air with all four feet and nearly driving the riders seat bone into their abdomen upon landing
-Condensation dripping off the roof of the arena that land on your butt should not require a bolt and a buck that would qualify one for the pro circuit rodeo
-Arena footing is downright exhausting and it’s a lot of work to go around being tense
-Light coming in under the arena door isn’t horse killing aliens landing their mothership
-And.. last but not least, you can and will be passed by other horses who are in the arena at the same time as you, even horses going the other direction and no, you can’t turn around and follow them..(still working that one out!)

Spring can come anytime… trail riding is way less work!!!